Tuesday, August 23, 2005
East Vs. West
A really good short article featured in New Scientist online magazine. It talks about an experiment carried out by Mr. Richard Nisbett. The aim of the experiment is to prove that EASTERN AND WESTERN COUNTRIES think differently from each other and that their thinking is mostly based on cultural philosophies/values/norms of their region. The comparison is done between the Chinease and American people.

Westerners and Easterners see the world differently
by Zeeya Merali

Chinese and American people see the world differently, literally. While Americans focus on the central objects of photographs, Chinese individuals pay more attention to the image as a whole, according to psychologists at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, US. 'There is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that Western and East Asian people have contrasting world-views,' explains Richard Nisbett, who carried out the study. 'Americans break things down analytically, focusing on putting objects into categories and working out what rules they should obey,' he says.

By contrast, East Asians have a more holistic philosophy, looking at objects in relation to the whole. 'Figuratively, Americans see things in black and white, while East Asians see more shades of grey,' says Nisbett. 'We wanted to devise an experiment to see if that translated to a literal difference in what they actually see.'

The researchers tracked the eye-movements of two groups of students while they looked at photographs. One group contained American-born graduates of European descent and the other was comprised of Chinese-born graduate students who came to the US after their undergraduate degrees. Each picture showed a striking central image placed in a realistic background, such as a tiger in a jungle. They found that the American students spent longer looking at the central object, while the Chinese students eyes tended to dart around, taking in the context.

Harmony versus Goals

Nisbett and his colleagues believe that this distinctive pattern has developed because of the philosophies of these two cultures. 'Harmony is a central idea in East Asian philosophy, and so there is more emphasis on how things relate to the whole,' says Nisbett. 'In the West, by contrast, life is about achieving goals.'

Psychologists watching American and Japanese families playing with toys have also noted this difference. 'An American mother will say ‘Look Billy, a truck. Its shiny and has wheels.’ The focus is on the object,' explains Nisbett. By contrast, Japanese mothers stress context saying things like, 'I push the truck to you and you push it to me. When you throw it at the wall, the wall says ouch.'

Nisbett also cites language development in the cultures. 'To Westerners it seems obvious that babies learn nouns more easily. But while this is the case in the West, studies show that Korean and Chinese children pick up verbs which relate objects to each other, more easily.

'Nisbetts work is interesting and suggestive,' says John Findlay, a psychologist specialising in human visual attention at Durham University, UK. 'Its always difficult to put an objective measure on cultural differences, but this group have made a step towards that.'

Nisbett hopes that his work will change the way the cultures view each other. 'Understanding that there is a real difference in the way people think should form the basis of respect.'

AMEN to that !! BTW this somewhat explains why we Asians are way smarter then Americans !!! :)
posted at 8/23/2005 03:51:00 PM | comments (3) | permalink


  1. AMEN to that !! BTW this somewhat explains why we Asians are way smarter then Americans !!! :)

    This is a very narcissistic comment. If you take the last 100 years as a benchmark...sadly Asians havent been the smartest.

    If we were, the US would not be the superpower it is.

    There are both sides of the arguement, but this is a very pompus statement.

    The smiley at the end is the saving grace

     — Anonymous arZan, at 8/26/2005 03:10:00 AM 

  2. Well the comment maybe too harsh...and i agree with you that the Asians are way behind the Westerners...But i still stand by my point that Asians are smarter then the West.

    US is a superpower cause of many other reasons...And of it is that as you will know too, well qualified Asian people prefer to migrate to western countries for better opportunities. Which is a big loss for Asians economy and growth cause they are the ones who can make a difference.

    Asians are smart...its just that they channelise their smartness for their own personal gain...which results in corruption of the entire system.

    Corruption is just not limited to the higher level...but it exsists in all the levels of the Asian society. And this i feel, is one of major problem due to which Asian countries fall way behind the West.
     — Blogger Sakshi, at 8/26/2005 11:33:00 AM 

  3. Whoa....i totally disagree with what you say. Will elaborate on it another day, maybe in a blog entry.

    By hook or by crook, US is where it is today. You gotta be smart for it. Now whether u use your smartness for good or bad is a totally different issue.

    Asians have been coming to the US in professional capacity only since the late 60's. The whole mad rush happened only 15-20 years ago.

    Corruption happens in the US too, but not at the everyday level.

    There is more to it. Wait for my blog entry someday.
     — Anonymous arzan, at 8/26/2005 12:29:00 PM 

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